What should I look for when buying a property?

If you’re buying a property in London, you might only get one viewing to make a decision. To help you make the right choice, here are 10 things you should look for when buying a property. 

You’ll probably spend more time choosing the sofa than you will at the viewing. Even after narrowing down your search online and loving the property from the moment you see it in person, how do you know it’s safe to make an offer?

In competitive property markets such as London, you’ll need to make the most of a 20-minute viewing to check for any minor inconveniences or glaring red flags – and that means asking yourself (or the agent) a sensible stream of questions. 

1. What’s the area like?

Do a drive-by (not that kind of drive-by). In other words, it’s a good idea to check out the property at different times before the viewing. What’s it like in rush house or at pub closing time on a Friday night? Is there enough parking outside? Also, do your homework and check for transport links and local amenities. 

2. What’s it like from the outside?

Arrive early for the viewing and take a closer look at the front of the property and a discreet sideways look at the neighbour’s property. It’s surprising how much you can tell from a visual inspection. In particular, check the general condition of the roof for any sags or missing tiles, and for any cracks in the brickwork or plaster. 

3. Are there any signs of damp?

Use your eyes and your nose. Fresh paint can sometimes hide damp issues. Remember to look up at the ceilings and around the skirting boards for signs of water damage, flaking plaster or musky smell. Also, look out for any large cracks on the inside walls (some hairline cracks are normal) and ask if there are any subsidence problems. 

4. How long is the lease?

If you’re buying a leasehold property such as a flat in London, ask the owner or the agent how long is left on the lease. It’s also worth asking about any additional service charges and ground rent, as you’ll need to pay these in addition to your mortgage. If you’re not sure about the difference between leasehold and freehold, start here

5. How long has it been on the market?

If it’s been on the market for a while and hasn’t sold, this could be a warning sign. Either there’s something that’s putting buyers off, or the seller has unrealistic expectations, or it could be that a previous offer fell through. Ask about the number of viewings and the number of offers so far – this is useful information if you decide to make an offer. 

6. What’s included in the sale?

For instance, white goods might be included in the sale, but it’s unlikely that their Cockapoo puppy or antique dining set is part of the deal. It’s always worth checking, especially if you are planning on renting the property. You might find that it comes with (or without) certain items that influence what kind of offer you make. 

7. What are the monthly bills?

This isn’t a question with a simple answer. The previous owners might have been a family of ten or work from home or take a dozen baths a day. However, you certainly can ask the owner or agent about council tax bands and for a copy of the EPC, which should give you some indication of monthly utility costs. 

8. Do the fixtures and fittings work?

Depending on the overall condition of the property, it might be worth checking some of the fixtures and fittings such as light switches, in-built kitchen appliances, fire alarms, taps and toilets. If anything needs repairing or replacing, make a note and bring this up with the owner or agent before making an offer. 

9. How much will it cost to ‘make your mark’?

Floral wallpaper and purple carpets are easy enough to change, but consider the cost and decide whether it’s something you can live with or not. Most homeowners want to make the property their own over time, so it’s worth listing anything you might want to replace and factoring this into your budget. 

10. Is there potential to add future value?

Things like loft conversions and extensions can add considerable value to a property. Don’t forget to also look for easy wins such as updating the kitchen or bathroom. As well as making improvements, do your research on the area and look at what house prices have done over the years to see whether your new postcode is up and coming. 

Final thoughts

In London, where space is a premium, we often advise customers to think ahead and consider any lifestyle changes that might be on the horizon. It can also be useful to take photographs at the viewing for reference later, although please ask the owner or agent if it’s okay before you start snapping away. Even after doing your homework when buying a property, we always recommend a Homebuyer Report for peace of mind or even a RICS Condition Report if you suspect anything serious lurking beneath the charming exterior. Remember, the ultimate question is whether it feels like it could become a home. 

See our full list of property advice articles in our Knowledge Centre

About Keatons

Keatons has been based in East London for over 20 years and has since expanded to the north and south of the city. We have an outstanding Trustpilot rating from customers and we are known for helping sellers and landlords achieve the best possible market price for their property. To find out more, visit our website.

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